28/03/2019

Acceptance speech – Tony Rinaudo

Sustainable human development and well-being depend on having a healthy, functioning environment. Trees as keystone species play a critical role in establishing and maintaining such environments.

When I was a boy, I could not understand why nearly every tree had been removed from farmland and why hills were left bare and eroded and I was disturbed that children just like me, who through no fault of their own were born in less fortunate countries and were hungry. And, I wondered how it could be that these things were accepted as normal. I felt very burdened but also powerless, and so I asked God to use me somehow, somewhere to make a difference. My whole life has been an attempt to act on that prayer.

Globally, deforestation, land degradation and desertification continue unabated. Some 25% of agricultural land, the natural resource base upon which we all largely depend for our food, is classified as degraded. Forests which purify our air, sequester greenhouse gases and help maintain the hydrological and mineral cycles are being destroyed as if there were no tomorrow. Human population continues to grow while increasing numbers are forced to eke out a living from extremely marginal and hence less productive land. At this very time of increasing need, climate change and land degradation not only contribute to current hunger and poverty levels, they are rendering increasing millions of people with the poorest coping strategies more vulnerable to future environmental shocks.

Fellow Australian Right Livelihood laureate Bill Mollison wrote “while the problems of this world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.”  Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) involves growing indigenous trees from existing living stumps, root and seeds through selecting, pruning and managing the growing stems.

Indeed, while there is no silver bullet that can address these compounding global problems, if I only had a single chamber “fix-it” gun, and had to choose one bullet at a time, I would choose the FMNR bullet first. FMNR is embarrassingly simple. It is being adopted by millions of the world’s poorest farmers, not because they are told to, or paid to, but because they see the benefits and because – they can! And they can do this with minimal external input.

Sustainable human development and well-being depend on having a healthy, functioning environment. Trees as keystone species play a critical role in establishing and maintaining such environments. Because FMNR is a low cost, rapid and scalable means of restoring tree and vegetation cover, it follows that FMNR can make a significant contribution towards solving many of our global problems.

FMNR is both a foundational and a complementary intervention. FMNR impacts include increased biodiversity and environmental goods and services by replenishing soil fertility, repairing the water cycle and buffering climatic extremes. FMNR helps meet basic needs through increased food and fodder production and increased income generation. It helps reduce risk in farming, encourages greater collaboration within and between communities and reduces competition for and conflict over scarce natural resources, reducing poverty driven out-migration. With greater food and livelihood security, communities and individuals have often built on an FMNR foundation with greater diversification and intensification of agriculture. Hence, perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the greatest benefits of FMNR is unseen – the restoration of hope.

This award is an acknowledgement of the work of millions of small-scale farmers and hundreds of colleagues and associates. My hope is that the award will create greater awareness of, support for and adoption of this little known but highly effective land and vegetation restoration approach.